July 2001

Unitone Guitar Series - A Portrait For Strings
Unitone Recordings 13702-4902-2
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]What is it about the guitar (or lute or mandolin) that so stirs the human soul? From the earliest troubadours through the guitar wizards of today’s rock scene, we seemingly worship the guitarist. It is said that the tenor sax most closely resembles the human voice, but it is the guitar that best accompanies voices and lifts them to their greatest heights. Except for the piano, no other instrument has had as many solo records dedicated to it as the guitar, and here, with A Portrait For Strings, Unitone Records offers us a sampling of some of the many differing sounds that the guitar can produce.

From the music of old Spain to bluegrass to the folk music of today, A Portrait For Strings leaves us in no doubt as to the versatility of the guitar. As for the performers, the lineup includes former Focus frontman Jan Akkerman (who plays the lute here), Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs, jazzman Jamie Findlay, and former Triumph guitarist Rik Emmett, among others. Add producer Jimmy Haslip (who has fingered more than a few stringed instruments in his career) into the mix and you can predict that the results just might be something special.

Right from the start, with Bruce Gaitsch’s "Barcelona Nieve," you can hear the clarity of the guitar sound. (Actually, on this track you can hear the clarity of two guitars.) Most of the tracks here are of solo acoustic guitar, but a couple have accompaniment, which adds variety. There are also two tracks on which Jan Akkerman plays lute. Notwithstanding all the different musicians (and, I would assume, different recording locations) the sound is uniformly excellent. You can hear the fingers on the strings, or sliding over the fingerboard. And when Sandro Albert plays, you can hear his breathing in accompaniment to the guitar. There is a good balance between string and body sound, which goes a long way toward adding a you-are-there feel to this audiophile disc.

The sound here is almost entirely midrange-oriented, so this disc would be a wonderful choice for the single-ended-triode crowd. My only complaint is that, at only slightly over 44 minutes, it’s over much too soon.

Some people might call this music "New Age," but I would not agree. This is just a demo disc illustrating the range that the guitar offers, recorded by some extremely talented musicians. If you love the guitar in all its facets, and you're looking for good sound to go with the music, A Portrait For Strings just might be the ticket. This is more than just gentle background music (although you could use it for that): it’s fun, and an interesting exploration of where the guitar is now, and how far it’s come.